By Michael Golub (EE72)

Chapter X: The Hole

I raced out with Mina's soup, though not fast enough to satisfy her.

She sat, ungebluzen, with her arms folded on her chest.

"Schmendrick," she said, less than affectionately. "What took you so long? We thought that you lost your pupic !"

Ben Bonus was sipping cranberry juice when she klopped me with this zinger. He laughed at the wrong moment, inhaled a swallow, and prompty coated his place setting with a maroon-colored regurgitant spray. Jacob's guffaw was so powerful that I thought he might have ruptured a viscus. He slammed a meaty paw down on the table in appreciation, overturning Ziggleman's water glass. As I ran over to my server to get a handful of napkins, Rogue poked me in the back.

"Bocci, mains," he said. "You'd better hurry up."

"Oh, shit."

"Don't worry," he offered. "You're last on the hot line."

The hot line order was set by the head waiter in the middle of each meal. Generally, there was little variation, the order being determined by seniority. If one station was far busier than the rest, that waiter got to go first. The number of trips needed to feed all of one's customers was also a key variable. Of course, some waiters expressed their machismo by toting sixteen mains (four stacks of four, the unofficial limit) on a single tray, thereby serving two full tables at once. With only twelve orders to carry, I figured I could easily serve all of my customers in one trip, and so I was not very dismayed to be relegated to the last position. Also, I was way behind.

I met Billy at the server for a strategy conference.

"Listen, Billy," I whispered, not wanting to be overheard by the Greenbergs who were directly behind me. They were clearly eavesdropping, paranoid, I suppose, that I was planning to scald them again.

"I'm not exactly sure what she meant," I confided to Daits, "but I think Mina just accused me of losing my dick in the kitchen."

Like Jacob, Billy found this image to be uproariously funny.

"Hey!," I said, cutting into his belly laugh. "Jacob knocked over Ziggleman's water and Ben Bonus barfed up some juice, so"--I handed him a stack of napkins--"go clean up and get their orders for mains while you're at it."

"Yes sir, General McFoofson," he said with a salute, adding, "Don't you want me to help you search for your pecker?"

No time for jokes. "Daits," I said, with the upmost seriousness, "Rogue already called, 'Mains.' If you wanna get out of here before dinner, get moving."

I hoped to collect table six's orders in record time, and was delayed only by my own propensity towards loquaciousness. More specifically, I am dominated by (what I think the psychoanalyst Eric Berne called "The Little Professor"). That is to say, when asked a question, I feel compelled to respond in a thorough and often pedantic manner, basing my answers on whatever smattering of knowledge I have pertinent to the topic.

For example, Mr. Greenberg asked me what was in the spring salad.

I replied, "Well, there's diced cabbage and carrot shavings, and slivers of matches herring, and sliced tomato, and stuff like that."

He ordered the broiled fillet of red snapper.

Mrs. Abraham wanted to know how the potato pirogen was made.

"It's made," I began, taking note of the expert tone conveyed in my own voice, "with finely ground potato meal, spiced to perfection, and packed into tasty pockets of roast pirogen. It's very good," I added.

This description inspired a whispered consultation with Mr. Abraham. They both ordered the Waldorf Salad.

And so on.

I left table six with a tally of three Waldorf salads, two snapper fillets, a Hawaian salad (with extra prunes) for Friedman, and a spring salad for Squeaky, though I doubted that her crumbling teeth could chomp through the tough cellulose of a lettuce leaf, which was a major ingredient of the dish.

Daits met me a few steps short of the kitchen. A jovial violinist, his tallis tails flying, frozen in mid-leap by the lively brush of TsipWaletsky, smirked down on us from a wall mural as we exchanged information.

"Okay, here's their order," Daits said, then squeezed his eyes shut to strenghten his concentration.

I said nothing, knowing how fragile the mind can be when filled with an obscure list.

"Okay, okay." He opened his eyes.

"It's one potato pirogen, two snappers, one blueberries, strawberries and cream, and one Spring salad. Hold the broccoli on one of the snappers. Mina says it gives her hives."

"Yeah, sure," I said. "They're a lot of trouble for their measly two buck tip. All right, what does she want instead?

He paused for a second. "Shit," he said. suggesting a memory lapse.

"Don't worry about it. Just ask her which veggie she wants and meet me on the hot line."

Just then, Rogue marched by, whistling a Grateful Dead tune, toting a hefty tray on his left shoulder and carrying a Dannon yogurt container in his right hand.

I banged my way into the kitchen once again. While strolling over to the hot line, I nodded a greeting to Medulla Oblongota. He was a young, slight, prodigously well-read dishwasher with a shaven head.

I then fell into place behind Kenny on the hot line. Brad had just finished picking up, and Pion was in the midst of ordering.

"Boccetta," Kenny said, "where the hell have you been?"

"Out getting castrated by Mina Bern."

"Tough bitch, huh?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno. Not really. Just obsessed with being the life of the party."

"Next! Who's next? You mummummummum goddamnwuzwuzwuzmn lazyzizzizzizzziz motherfuckers! Wake up!"

It was Stanley, encouraging us to move into position faster. Kenny stepped up to bat.

The hot line was set up like this: You put the edge of your tray on the table, placed your foot on a crossbeam underneath, and balanced the other edge of your tray on your thigh. To either side of you stood a bimmie with a pot of hot vetgetables from which they spooned portions onto the top plate of one of three adjacent stacks. Stanley, or Harold, the Haitian assistant chef, stood on the other side of the table, armed with a spatula, with they used to distribute fish, pirogen, casserole dishes, or whatever was being served, onto that same top plate.

You called out your orders as clearly and as quickly as possible. The chefs and bimmies loaded the plate. You grabbed a top hat and arranged piles of plates on your tray as you went along. If everything went smoothly; that is, if the bimmies weren't drunk, if you didn't have too many alternative requests, and if no busboys tried to interrupt the proceedings to return a meal or grab a special order, then twelve main courses could accumulate on a tray in less than a minute.

"That's two priogen, hold the beets, carrots on one and spinach on the other, three snappers without the teeth, one eggs florentine." Kenny barked his orders distinctly, maneuvered his plates about without missing a beat, managed to discuss the Mets winning streak with Mario, complemented Stanley on the appearance of the snapper, and then zipped off to the salad cage to grab a cold meal in his free hand on his way out of the kitchen.

Kenny took any task seriously, applying himself completely and without hesitation. I didn't know what type of future he had planned for himself, but as I watched him purposefully kick open the exit door as he returned to the dining room, I knew that he would be successful.

"Your turn, professor," Stanley said.

I stepped into position with a grin, glad that, for once, I had comprehended Stanley's idiom, even if it was only three words.

By this time, my second year of waiting tables at the Boib, the hot line was second nature. The panic was gone. I did not shout in a frenzied delerium, so typical of the novices. Rather, I presented my orders calmly, and (while I invested little effort in this short-lived summertime profession) I took pride in my memory, which manifested as the filling my customer's requests the first time around. Only rarely did I have to send Billy back to return a mistaken dish, knowing full well that he would be harassed by some chef or bimmie who firmly believed that the hot line was for waiters only.

Harold slid a fillet onto a blue plate. I pointed out that sweat from his chinstrap of a beard had landed on the fish. Stanley pulled the fish from the plate, bearlike, and tossed it in the rubbish. Harold's omnipresent smile faded a bit. "Hot, hot, hot, mon," he said. Stanley mumbled something to Harold, who then toweled the perspiration from his face.

I focused on Mario and Boris, the broccoli and brussel sprout men, respectively, as I collected my orders. Mario's mind wandered, and Stanley nudged him, from time to time, with the blunt end of a carving knife, to bring him back to earth.

Boris was older than most kitchen help, though, weathered as he appeared, he might have been as young as forty. Life, apparently, had taken him through one hell of a wringer. Wisps of white hair fell across his rheumy eyes. A battered nose zigzagged its way down his face. His evil toothless grin was probably the last orifice that victims saw when Boris was young enough to kill. By the time he reached Boiberik, there didn't seem to be enough strength in him to pack a weapon. His palsied forearm shook as he dispensed brussel sprouts.

I looked back to Mario, then to Boris, then back again. Yes. There is material here...for film makers, social workers, writers. A wealth. (It was a cross-section of humanity with whom I rarely came in contact.)

"String beans. Bocci, string beans!" Billy called from the doorway.

I grabbed an empty monkey dish, held it out to Harold, and said, "You heard the man."

Equipped with but five hot meals, and one side order, I took a handful of top hats and made my way over to the salad cage, where I stood watching as Herman and Leon added the finishing touches to the assortment of salad platters.

I pressed my full tray, laden ultimately with eleven meals, grabbed the fruit and cream bowl in my free hand, and headed, yet again, back to the dining room. Now, eleven mains does not a chicken tray make. Still, a mastery of technique was required to haul that heavy a load without strain. My method was to lock my elbow, and buttress my upper arm with the side of my torso. In that position, I managed to keep the tray's metal underside off my shoulder, where it would have left indelible black iron stains on my shirt.

Why was it considered a disgrace to, "shoulder," a tray? I really can't say. I suppose it was just a rite of passage. You learned to read without moving your lips, to ride a bicycle without training wheels, to buy clothes on your own, to balance a checkbook, and finally, to carry a tray off your shoulder.

There were some waiters who purportedly not only cavorted through the dinning room with a full tray maintained at ear-level, but also balanced the entire affair on their fingertips. Fubar (an acronym for "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair) for one, was rumored to have, "fingertipped," a chicken tray while three-steeping a cha-cha down a crowded aisle.

I don't know if this story is true, but, based on my limited impressions of the man, I tend to doubt it.

I met Fubar when I was a yingste elste (thriteen-year-old). My counselor, Sid Cohen, and I, were trudging our way back from the Elste field.

Sid was a Boiberik original, of sorts. Truncated in stature, he managed a classical overcompensation by mastering basketball, a game where height is of the essence. With precise, darting moves, deft playmaking, and a deadly jump shot, he was a crowd favorite in many an intercamp contest. Adding to his audience appeal was his fervid and obstinate behavior on the court. In a sense, he was a youthful counterpart to Jacob Blank.

Anyway, on the day I met Fubar, Sid and I were returning from a baseball diamond on one of the camp's remote playing fields, where I had just disgraced myself during try-outs for an outfield spot on the elste softball team. As the coach fungoed towering arcs to the prospective players, I collided with my bunkmate, Mitchell Zipp, on one effort. On another, I positioned myself so awkwardly that I was forced to try to snag the fly with my bare hand. I jammed a finger in the process. Finally, as I raced towards the infield to snag a short pop fly, I ended up, miraculously, stepping on the ball the instant it hit the ground. (Think of the odds of such a microsecond mishap.) In defying the statistics, I had twisted my ankle.

Hobbling back to dispensary with Sid, we passed behind the canteen, where the entrance to the Hole was located.

"Shit," Sid said. "I just realized that I have Fubar's driver's license. Can you wait here a minute, I really have to give it back to him."

"Aw, c'mon," I whined, "Let me come up and see the place. I've been hearing stories about it for the past three years."

And I had. Descriptions of the yearly Hole Party, during which the female guests were plied with cheap liquor in the hope of stimulating sexual abandon, inevitably filtered down to even the youngest campers. Based on the lurid details, I visualized a Bacchanalian orgy, complete with naked women, spumes of vomit, and wanton violence. I suppose it was those stories, along with the fanfare that accompanied the chicken tray procession, that inspirec me to become a waiter.

I don't know when I would have eventually visited this den of iniquity had Sid not acquiesced. Though campers were forbidden entrance to the Hole for obvious reasons, Sid was never one to adhere to campside regulations, and so, little convincing was needed.

I limped up a narrow, rickety flight of wooden steps, behind him.

"THE HOLE," was written with masking tape on a lopsided door. We went inside. My expectations of luxurious decadence were shattered.

Sid and I stepped into a long hallway. It was poorly lit, but bright enough to make out a few cigarette butts, gops rags, and a deflated basketball lying about the floor. I was reminded of a recent photo-essay in Life magazine depicting the dismal squalor of the Eastern European ghettos.

It was damp and muggy. And it was quiet, save the muffled tones of Jim Morrison and the Doors describing "the next whiskey bar."

We followed the music, entering the first room on the right. It was barren, save a few cracked shelves against one wall, a baseball glove and bat in a corner, and two camp beds without linen. Alan Kasmir, a busboy, lay naked and unconscious on one of them, a portable radio on his face, apparently to block out the light. A rotating fan was clamped to the foot of the bed. Pot paraphernalia was scattered about. I thought that Alan had died of a drug overdose.

Sid found the tableau to be comical.

"Wake up, fat man," he said, grabbing the baseball bat and poking the snoring lummox in the gut.

"What the fuck?" Alan grumbled, pushing himself to a sitting position. The radio, and the Doors, fell to the floor, jolted into silence.

He rubbed his face about, peeled his eyes open, and yelled, "Sidney!" He didn't appear to be angry; Kasmir always yelled.

"Sorry to wake you, Bokie," Sid said.

"Fuck you, Ferret," he shot back, amicably. "If you were really sorry, you wouldn't have used a bat." Alan seemed immensely pleased with this observation. He issued a hyena-like yelp, stood up, grabbed Sid about the neck with one brawny arm and, using the knuckles of his fist, delivered a series of three sharp nuggies to the crown of Sid's head.

I stepped back into the hallway. "It is true," I thought to myself. The dining room staff is dangerous.

Sid, however, seemed to accept this attack as Kasmir's normal behavior. Kasmir released him.

"Listen," Sid said, as if they had just shaken hands, "I'm in a hurry. Which room is Fubar's?"

"Is that all?" Kasmir said, falling back onto his bed. He picked up the transistor radio and began fiddling with its knobs. "For this I had to be woken up?" He dropped backwards onto his cot, jiggled a few dials on the radio, and coaxed a Dylan song from its speaker.

"I was," he continued, "in the middle of this great dream about Diane Gallerstein, Sidney. It was Felker. Her bunk was Uganda, and she was wearing this wrap-around skirt, open in the front. We were behind the flats... "

Sid and I left Bokie to his fantasy.

We knocked on another door. Fubar pulled it open. He was clad only in a white towel that barely circled him ample waist.

God, I thought, this place is a nudist colony.

"Sidney! Well hello, what an unexpected pleasure," he said, cordially, as he stepped aside and waved us into his room. "And you brought a gimpy Golub with you," he observed.

"Now Sidney, campers in the Hole, tsk, tsk, you know that Eli will have a kniption if he finds out. You'll have voch for the rest of the year."

(Eli Gamliel was the head counselor that summer. "Voch," was the campside equivalent of tea duty. The counselor assigned voch was responsible for preventing campers from expressing a healthy sexual curiosity by sneaking out to the bunks occupied by the opposite sex. Voch was also assigned a security role: expected to make sure than no camper was decapitated or otherwise disfigured by the "Cropsy Maniac" who lived in the nearby woods.)

Sid handed Fubar the license and thanked him.

"Well," Fubar asked, "did they buy it?"

"They didn't even look," Sid answered.

"It's a good thing they didn't, because my face weighs twice as much as your entire body."

My ankle was throbbing, and I told Sid that I didn't mind going to the dispensary alone.

"Before you go Golub," Fubar said, "what do you think of our penthouse? It sure as hell beats living in those dingy bunks on that "Boy's Hill" up there, doesn't it? You don't want to grow up to be a nerdy counselor like Sidney over here, do ya? Be a peshkie! We'll show you the good life."

I surveyed Fubar's room. It was not much better than Kasmir's, though it offered more entertainment in the form of a sloping pile of Playboy magazines under the bed. Dining room graffiti covered the walls. One memorable drawing featured a reasonable facsimile of Ben Duboff adding a personal emission to a large vat labeled, "Egg Drop Soup." Dustballs grew randomly about the floor. Ceiling stains betrayed a roof that struggled, unsuccessfully, to keep out the rain. I could not wait to live there.

Aside from that one visit to his gloomy dwelling, I had little direct contact with Fubar during my remaining camper years. Based on his courtesy as a host, I have to surmise that he was a gracious (and therefore, prosperous) waiter. He had personality. Whether he also possessed the strength to fingertip a fifty pound tray...well, who knows? I, for one, was satisfied to be able support eleven mains off the shoulder with enough confidence in my balance to carry a fruit and sour cream bowl in the other hand.

Chapter XI: Myron and Phyllis
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